Sunday, January 16, 2005

Tempest inna teapot!

Ok, by now everybody has heard about Bad Boy Harry Windsor attending a costume party dressed as one of Rommel’s Afrika Corps. I’m guessing that since the theme of the party was “Colonialists and Natives” and Harry’s girlfriend is from Zimbabwe, he generally thought no further than how cleverly this costume would pay homage to his Africa-born sweetie while keeping with the theme of the party.

Ok…so it was in bad taste, considering that England suffered brutally under the Blitz…which was something that happened when his grandmother was younger than he is now. Hmmm…how emotionally connected are you to the traumas your grandmothers suffered when in their teens? And how mature…and global…was your thinking and decision-making capacity when you were 20? I dunno about you, but I can assure you that the decade of my life surrounding that age was fraught with more poorly taken decisions that wise ones. It is, after all, from our mistakes that we learn (or at least ought to learn!). Those of you who consider that I carry some small amount of wisdom, give a bit thought to how I might have come by it!

I’m not excusing Harry’s faux pas, but rather explaining how such a thing might come about…and how normal it really is. Some people are of the opinion that because he was born a Royal and is third in line to the throne, he should “know better.” Why? Does Royal blood carry some kind of special gene that imbues wisdom beyond one’s years to those in whose veins it flows? Because he went to Eton or whatever bastion of uppercrust education he attended? I dunno…I somehow doubt the British public schools (actually private schools, to you and me) have special classes for princelings that teach them good taste. Maybe he should have learned it from social context like the rest of us do? Ummmm…what does the social context of a kid who grew up with bodyguards around him have to do with you and me? If you really think about it and you take all of the “should have’s” out of it, what you end up with is a twenty year old kid who is behaving like most twenty year old kids who have grown up with too much money and a sense of entitlement (like just about any kid anywhere in the world today whose parents are financially secure). He thought he was going to a private costume party, not a public event, and he thought he was being clever. So did his older brother and his best friend…they hired costumes at the same time Harry hired his and were aware of what he selected and neither one gainsaid him. (The friend hired a costume to attend as Harry’s grandmother, the Queen. I’ve not heard any criticism about that one…)

One of the things that bothers me about this whole debacle isn’t Harry’s poor taste in costumes but rather that he seems to be shaping up as the press’s newest Royal scapegoat, now that “The Duchess of Pork” has assumed a lower public profile, and everything he does is seized upon and reported with the most negative possible twist. He’s just a kid…can these same finger-pointing reporters and tongue-clucking readers point back in time to pristine youths themselves? They never made a poor choice, bad judgment, or embarrassing error? My grandfather, he of the ready aphorism, would tell these people that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Not a one of us is perfect and I’ll bet everyone reading this did or said something when they were around 20 of which they are less than proud today. Harry is making his mistakes, albeit more publicly than most of us do, en route to the wisdom of adulthood…assuming people allow him to make those mistakes and learn from them and don’t hound him into an undeservedly bad reputation that leads him to the “if I’ve got the name, I might as well play the game,” mindset of the perpetual screw-up.

The other thing that bothers me is that party. Young Harry, only 20, is pilloried for making a tasteless choice in costume but I have seen very little criticism of the party theme itself, and no criticism whatsoever of the host of the party, 66-year-old Richard Meade, who is, himself, a minor public figure: he won three Olympic gold medals in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics for equestrian events. That a 66-year-old man had the execrably bad taste to throw a party with the “native and colonial” theme is appalling…that the press should seize on a kid’s costume choice to criticise rather than the incredibly arrogant and insensitive party theme…chosen by someone presumably old enough to know better…is simply inconceivable.

Few would argue that the Nazis were some really bad actors who were responsible for the most murderous decade and a half in the last century…but the British colonial efforts lasted longer and had, I think, more far-reaching negative consequences. I doubt a death toll can ever be counted, but the British Raj saw to the destruction of entire civilizations through the imposition of its own, and committed, if not genocides, certainly massacres that approached that magnitude. Whole nations came under the lash of the Raj…“the sun never sets on the British Empire”…from the wholesale slaughter of the native populations of America where the Brits settled, to the marginalization of the aboriginal people of Australia, from the capture, enslavement and transport of free Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean to the complete assimilation of India’s governmental form and the colonization of Africa, the record of the British colonial effort is far from something worthy of pride. It should have been looked upon with the same kind of shock and horror that a “Nazi and Jew” party would generate in Berlin today, but instead, the press chose to focus on the unfortunate sartorial choice of one 20-year-old young man.

So Harry should have taken the moral high ground and refused to attend? Sorry, but as much as we like to paint the prince as a rebellious, headstrong, bit-between-the-teeth fellow, you have to recognize that the party was thrown by the father of a close friend of his. Mr. Meade was celebrating his 66th and his son’s 22nd birthdays with this party, 400 hundred people saw fit to attend, and if adults and youthful friends alike are attending and apparently finding nothing amiss with the theme…what is the tip-off to Harry? It is easy enough to say that he “should” know better, but when all of the adults around him are giving it the thumbs-up by the very fact of their attendance…some 20-year-old kid is going recognize something is amiss? Doubtful…very doubtful.

So why didn’t the press seize on the tastelessness of Meade’s party theme? Why is it not OK for Harry to inadvertently offend the Jews, but celebrating something that destroyed the lives and cultures of countless Indians, Aboriginal Australians, Africans of multiple heritage, Chinese, and native American and Canadian peoples…all of this is OK? Where is the outrage for these people and their destroyed and plundered histories? …and before anybody starts winding themselves up about the Jews and the Nazi camps, let me state here that my late husband was Jewish and his mother was, as she so delicately put it, “arrested by the Germans,” and spent the majority of the war in a slave labour munitions factory (where she delighted in sabotaging the guns as they assembled them…way to go, Maman!). I’m not saying offending Jewish people and the survivors of the Blitz (or Rommel’s campaigns, for that matter) is OK…what I am saying is that a grown man mocking, even inadvertently, the millions who suffered under British colonialism and whose futures were irrevocably altered as a result, is a far worse act than a thoughtless costuming choice by a kid barely out of his teens.

A little perspective here, people! Please!